I was like everyone and no one. I was a good athlete. I was smart. I was funny. I was observant. I was too tall. I was overweight. I was mouthy. My family had money, my father well-known. I was guarded, never sure who my true friends were.
Somehow, randomly, I was deemed special. I sat at the top of the junior high popularity pyramid. I didn’t campaign for it like some, or scheme for it like others. It just was.
I tried to broker peace between the two girls who argued over sitting behind me in English class. I told them I didn’t care. They fought anyway, hurling insults, spitting lies, as if being cruel to each other would endear them to me.
Cliques expanded and contracted nonsensically. One day, Aimee and Maggie decided they hated Karen. The next day, Karen and Maggie ganged up on Aimee. Every day, a new configuration, and I was expected to determine the pecking order. In. Out. Out. In. Leah kissing Jason means she’s slutty. Jennifer’s dirty sneakers means she’s poor. I deferred to natural selection, letting the whole mess course-correct until all seemed well again.
Chad was a boy who looked like a man. Nearly six feet tall, stocky build, facial hair instead of peach fuzz. His two front teeth protruded. A rowdy boy named Mike re-named him Bucky. It was so pervasive even teachers called him that. It hurt his feelings. I asked him why he took it. I told him laughing it off made him look weak. He said at least they were talking to him now.
I hated the teasing, the rumors, the manipulation. I hated seeing people harassed, shamed, ostracized.
I told my mother how mean some of my classmates were. She said what most adults do: “Kids will be kids”, “When boys tease, it means they like you”, “Girls are cruel at that age.” I never mentioned it again.
I didn’t participate but I didn’t object.
I wanted to help but I didn’t want to become the next target.
I’m still unsure.